Istanbul, Turkey – Just saying the name, “Istanbul”, you get excited. Istanbul exudes sophistication. It is alluring. That’s why I wanted to share it with my friends. A little over a decade ago, I organized a trip that included K.G. and Phyllis Romine, Leigh Weimers (then a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News), Mike and Pat Splinter, Ramune Ambrozaitis, Christine Storey and my son Marc.
We flew into Turkey and stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet. The hotel was originally a century-old neoclassic Turkish prison and it is relatively small with only 65 rooms but the service and ambiance set the mood of an exotic locale.
We immediately soaked in the flavor of the city as we visited the renowned, 15th century Grand Bazaar and the famed Hagia Sophia. Art history students remember the church turned mosque turned museum as the epitome of Byzantine architecture. We marveled at the large granite pillars that stand over 19 meters tall and weigh over 70 tons! The restored mosaics astounded the eyes at their intricacies.
After touring Istanbul for a few days the group flew to Bodrum, Turkey on the Southwestern Aegean Coast. From here we boarded the barge, Halas. Every year in August this motoryacht, built in 1916 in Scotland, is the vacation yacht of the British Royal family. With 14 staff members on board including a chef, a Russian masseuse, and a bald hairdresser we felt like royalty!
I want to say a bit about the Turkish food. Well, it’s delicious, always fresh and fantastic. I was so impressed with the food which ranks up there with the best in the world, that I purchased a Turkish cookbook and I have tested numerous recipes to many a house guest’s delight! One of my favorites is Imam Bayilidi (eggplants with olive oil).
Back on the barge, we cruised down the coast of Turkey — really the best way to see many sites — but the fun we had on the yacht in the evening was priceless! Every night we had a different game or activity, charades being the most entertaining. On the last night, we dressed in costumes and toasted our newly formed friendships. The group had started the trip as almost strangers but by the end of our trip forever-bonds were formed.
I’m no stranger to Turkey. I’ve been there three times, but every time I discover something new, something that fascinates me so much that I want to go again. My advice if you’re planning on traveling to the crossroads of Europe and Asia is to plan on at least two weeks to see it. You won’t regret it.